By Sara Giaziry
I was meeting friends for coffee in a suburb of Tripoli when I heard that Sirte had fallen. A little later, I was at a friend’s house, when we heard that Gaddafi had been captured. For the first hour there were just rumours; people came out of their houses and asked their neighbours for news, crowds began to gather on the streets, their hopes mounting as more details were revealed and confirmed.
When the first pictures of him dead came out, the celebrations began, with cars on the streets beeping their horns, people waving flags, shooting in the air. It just got crazy – on every street corner people were holding impromptu parties, drumming and singing, all the main streets were clogged, soldiers at checkpoints throwing sweets and chocolates at drivers.
I had always said that I wanted to see Gaddafi caught and tried, with a sterile, intense investigation into all his crimes. The International Criminal Court in The Hague would have been the perfect venue. But a lot of people here wanted him dead rather than alive. I was brought up in the United Kingdom, and my background is working in human rights, so I see it differently, but normal Libyans see this as closure, now he is gone.
So, I do wish he had been caught alive, and wish that he had been put on trial, but since he is dead I am not going to shed tears over him.
This, at least, wipes the slate clean. People have been telling me they feel refreshed and reborn. He was a tyrant who touched every Libyan’s life; my parents left Libya in the early 80s because life was just too hard under his rule. Everybody, even if they haven’t had a family member directly killed because of him, has been affected. He was this omnipresent figure for every Libyan for so long that people were scared that if he was captured alive he would still create problems, and that even in custody he would be able to rally his supporters and prolong the fighting.
Hopefully the next stage is the countdown to elections. I have met so many amazing young people who have a very clear vision for Libya as an inclusive, fully democratic country, where success is due to merit and not corruption. A secular, liberal, western-style democracy is what they want and they have a definite understanding of what that means and what it will involve. Everyone agrees that the Islamists should have a voice as part of a transparent democratic process. Turkey is the model for Libya – there, a democratic Islamist party is in power but hasn’t gone around imposing the headscarf on women.
As for tribalism, it plays no role in Tripoli; it serves as a social structure rather than a form of political allegiance. It doesn’t mean that everyone has an allegiance only to their tribe or sees a slight against their tribe as a cause for revenge.
It doesn’t feel like life is back to normal yet – we’ve had no water for a week, for example. But restaurants and cafes are open again and migrant workers are returning. The police are going back to work. At the moment, security feels good, apart from celebratory gunfire. It’s illegal and there is a huge public information campaign against it, and although it has decreased it still goes on.
I am sure some militia groups will not want to give up their weapons. It is worrying, especially as there are no records as to who received weapons when they were handed out, both by the regime and the revolutionaries. You go around to people’s houses here and they happily display their AK47s – everyone has one.
The problem is what to do with all the young men who have been fighting for months and months. It won’t be possible to create jobs for them immediately so there will have to be an element of patience. I hope this is the end of the fighting, although there are still pockets of pro-Gaddafi fighters here and there.
Once the euphoria wears off, there’s going to be a cold, hard reckoning.
For instance, you wouldn’t think Tripoli is the capital of an oil-rich country. There is rubbish everywhere. It stinks and there are only dodgy taxis and crazy minibuses to serve as public transport.
People are already making demands of the National Transitional Council, NTC. They are complaining about potholes in the roads, lack of water, traffic problems – and this is good. People need to question authority and hold it to account – and they are doing it for the first time.
Sara Giaziry is a programme officer at the Rory Peck Trust. This article was published by IWPR’s Arab Spring Issue 36